Social Justice

Self-identification or tribal membership: Different paths to your heritage

By Lu Zhao
Medill Reports

It was a surprise for the 8-year-old girl when she first learned she is a Native American many years ago. Pamala Silas still remembers that day. She had transferred to a new school. Huddling in the chair, sitting beside her younger sister, Pam was introduced by the teacher as an “American Indian.” She couldn’t believe what she heard.

“What? Why did she say that?” Pam, in her 50s and proud of her heritage, said she harbored as a child stereotypes of Native Americans that, all too often, people saw on TV. “They’re all naked and crazy!”

Pam went home and asked her foster mother why they called her an Indian at school.

“Well, you are,” her foster mother said. She took out an encyclopedia, went to the American Indian section and showed Pam a picture of a man with a headdress on a horse. “You’re an Indian.” Continue reading

Trump calls border migrants a “tremendous onslaught,” sparking concerns from mental health experts

By Carly Graf
Medill Reports

President Donald Trump described the U.S. and Mexican boundary as “our very dangerous southern border,” during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, reigniting concerns about punitive immigration practices and mental health impacts.

His rallying cry included a call to Congress to put the “ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers out of business.”

In the shadow of the longest government shutdown in history, spurred by a political standoff over funding for a border wall, scrutiny of the administration’s policy rekindled also after a January a report from the Office of the Inspector General. The report revealed that thousands more children may have been taken from parents than initially reported.

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Latinx residents and young candidates join forces for upcoming Cicero elections

By Ankur Singh
Medill Reports

On a cold Monday night at the V Bar in Berwyn, the room radiated energy as a group of young people gathered to build a grassroots political campaign that has never been seen before in their community.

“Some of you might recognize me as the voice of the announcements from the class year of 2012,” said Gerardo Nava, as he introduced himself as a supporter.

“I have been involved politically, not so much in Cicero because, at this point if you live in Cicero, you know how the politics are. But now we have the opportunity to take that landscape and make it our own. I’m really excited to see what can happen,” added Brenda Hernandez, campaign manager for Morton High School District 201 board  candidate Esteban Rodriguez. Continue reading

Chicago mayoral candidates criticize “the Chicago way” and vow to eliminate corruption

By Ariana Puzzo
Medill Reports

“We have candidates on this stage right now who are not corrupt,” said attorney and mayoral candidate John Kozlar.  He and others took swipes at  accusations that have surfaced during the race for mayor and aldermen.

“The people who got us in this mess are not going to be the ones who get us out of it,” Kozlar said.

Other candidates at Saturday’s mayoral forum at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple added that voting for a new type of leader in the mayoral election would bring citywide improvement.

Garry McCarthy, the former Chicago police superintendent, said the problems that affect Chicago today are based on decades of political corruption in the city, state and county.

“Concepts like ‘the Chicago way,’ concepts like, ‘Well, I gave the money back,’” McCarthy said. “Well, if you rob a bank and give the money back, you’re still guilty of bank robbery, folks.”

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Everyone running for mayor wants to fix Chicago’s mental healthcare system. But how?

By Carly Graf
Medill Reports

With the 2019 mayoral election fast approaching, what to do about the vast numbers of Chicagoans lacking adequate access to mental health treatment remains a huge question for candidates.

Since the City Council voted to close six public mental health clinics in 2012 as part of budget austerity measures, the Chicago Department of Public Health has reported an uptick in the number of hospitalizations due to behavioral mood disorders. Research by Saint Anthony’s Hospital in North Lawndale demonstrated that a majority of residents in Chicago’s South and West Side neighborhoods who seek mental health care find it to be too costly or must wait for upwards of six months for an appointment. One in three inmates at Cook County Jail suffers from mental illness, according to reporting in The Atlantic.

It’s an ever-present crisis that speaks to underlying themes of inequity and disinvestment in minority neighborhoods. While the City Council’s recent decision to create an exploratory task force marks a first step, it’s hardly comprehensive. The next mayor will set the economic agenda and decide how much (or little) to devote in reform.

Here’s a rundown of each candidate’s plans based on our interviews, their campaign websites and our scraping of major Chicago media.

1. Gery Chico

Formerly served as Chief of Staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, president of Chicago Board of Education, president of Chicago Park District and board chairman of City Colleges of Chicago

The crux of Chico’s mental health platform lies in dismantling one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s most notable pet projects.

In December, Chico announced, if elected, he’d shut down the City Infrastructure Trust, an Emanuel-era initiative to attract private investment in city projects. It’s widely agreed to have underperformed. Chico would put that money—an estimated annual $1.6 million in taxpayer dollars—towards services for mental illness.

2. Bill Daley

Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Chief of Staff to former President Barack Obama and son of former Mayor Richard M. Daley

Daley calls the decision to close clinics’ doors a “devastating blow to the Chicagoans who depended on them.” He casts some blame on the Illinois government for consistently spending less on mental health programs than other states.

With pronounced fundraising expertise, Daley plans to increase state and city partnership on investment in mental health. He’ll also create the Mayor’s Office of Violence Prevention and Reduction, tasked with deploying tactics like counseling and life-coaching to at-risk young people and former inmates re-entering society.

“We must do better by these communities and pull together the requisite resources to bring services to our neighborhoods that need the most,” Daley said when asked about the challenges facing minority areas.

3. Amara Enyia

Community organizer and director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce

Enyia found a powerful partner on her mental health agenda in Chance the Rapper, a Chicago hip-hop musician turned activist who gave $1 million to mental health community programs last year.

A main objective for her as mayor would be to build a bridge between the police and public health departments, she said. To do so, she’s proposed establishing an emergency protocol that “diverts disabled citizens from criminal justice consequences to public health assistance, when appropriate.”

Beyond reopening closed clinics and building more, Enyia stresses education reform, demanding government equip every public school with the sufficient nurses and counselors to help students process their neighborhood trauma.

“Chicago isn’t broke,” she said. “This is a matter of prioritization.”

Protesters in 2014 were unsuccessful in their fight to keep North River Mental Health Center in North Park open. (/Flickr)

4. Bob Fioretti

Former 2nd Ward Alderman

While serving as alderman to the 2nd ward, Fioretti publicly voiced concern about the 2012 budget that would shudder the clinics. However, when the time came to vote, he rubber-stamped the resolution.

As a candidate, however, Fioretti plays the other side. H’s called for freezing the city’s expansive TIF program, a disputed property tax policy meant to encourage development that critics say has drained blighted neighborhoods of funds for social services. According to his website, Fioretti would halt TIF, evaluate where the money’s being used and send unused existing funds towards projects like re-opening mental health clinics.

5. La Shawn Ford

State representative and former CPS schoolteacher

Growing up in Chicago’s most infamous public housing project Cabrini Green, Ford witnessed firsthand the destruction that untreated trauma, addiction or other mental illness brings.

The schoolteacher turned state senator believes safer communities require expanded mental health services, according to his website. On the state level, he’s advocated aggressively for restorative justice programs, endorsed a West side ballot referendum to increase property tax to fund community-run mental health clinics and spearheaded state-level efforts to integrate mental health care and Medicaid.

6. Jerry Joyce

Lawyer and son of longtime 19th ward alderman and state senator, Jeremiah Joyce

During a mayoral roundtable with the Chicago Tribune editorial board earlier this month, Joyce diverged from his fellow candidates on how to swiftly abate Chicago’s crime problem. In the short run, he said, he’d hire more cops to avoid overworking detectives rather than fortifying social services.

The crime attorney also said he would work to strengthen neighborhoods in the long run, but his website’s suspiciously quiet on how.

7. John Kozlar

Lawyer with two aldermanic race losses under his belt

Despite running on an unabashedly anti-establishment platform with a progressive tilt, Kozlar’s website includes no direct mention of mental health, and he’s been tight-lipped on the issue in Chicagoland media.

Rallies after Decynthia Clements, a 34-year-old black woman, was shot and killed by an Elgin police officer in March 2018. The investigation is pending, but witnesses say Clements was experiencing a mental health episode when she was shot.(/Flickr)

8. Lori Lightfoot

Former president of Chicago Police Board and co-founder of Chicago Police Accountability Task Force

Lightfoot’s plans to combat the crisis closely intertwine with her ideas for improving public schools and addressing crime.

If elected, the former President of the Police Board would create a Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, charged with, among other things, leading a committee devoted to rebuilding community-based public and private mental health facilities, de-stigmatizing mental illness and supporting those who closely experience violence.

Lightfoot also proposes staffing public schools with experts trained in trauma-informed care and youth mental health.

9. Garry McCarthy

Former Superintendent of Chicago Police Department 

Many contend the embattled former Chicago Police Superintendent, who oversaw the department when Laquan McDonald was killed and was subsequently fired, entered the race simply to unseat his onetime boss Emanuel.

However, once Emanuel announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, McCarthy’s fiery focus shifted, his sights set on undoing Emanuel’s legacy.

That includes opposing the construction of the $95 million new police academy, which McCarthy called a “shiny object” for “political purposes, not functional purposes,” in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times last summer. In that same interview, he said he’d reallocate some of those funds towards putting mental health centers back into the communities that need them, key, in his view, to long term crime reduction.

10. Susana Mendoza

Illinois comptroller and former Chicago city clerk

Like many of her competitors, Mendoza believes that solutions to Chicago’s rising rate of mental illness among minorities and the devastatingly high number of the sick who end up incarcerated lie at the intersection of law enforcement, violence reduction and social services.

Following the footsteps of major metropolitan areas like Houston, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, one of Mendoza’s hallmark initiatives is a co-responder program in which mental health specialists respond alongside police officers to designated incident calls. As described on her website, upon arrival, the two would work together to link needy individuals to treatment services rather than to the criminal justice system, where applicable.

11. Toni Preckwinkle

President of Cook County Board and five-term 4th ward alderman

The five-term alderman who now serves as Cook County Board President believes that providing mental health care is a crucial step in addressing Chicago’s gun violence pandemic.

“People who don’t have access to mental health services end up in the county hospital, in the emergency room or in jail because they acted out,” Preckwinkle said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Although specifics to Preckwinkle’s plans are lacking, she was one of five mayoral-hopefuls who pledged to reinvest at least $25 million into expanding mental health services, prioritizing care resources and re-opening clinics at a forum earlier this month.

When City Council voted on closing clinics in 2012, protesters showed up at City Hall to voice their opposition.(/Flickr)

12. Neal Sáles-Griffin

Tech entrepreneur, CEO of Code Now and lecturer at Northwestern University and University of Chicago

The bright-eyed South Side local enters the race as the only true outsider. He’s never served in public office; instead making his name in tech entrepreneurship.

He has deep ties to the nonprofit and advocacy communities and remains closely connected to his roots on the South Side, which informs his viewpoint on the collision of mental health and violence prevention.

In addition to exploring re-opening mental health clinics and bulking up staff resources at existing providers, Sáles-Griffin wants to ramp up services available over the phone or online, according to his website. He also believes that normalizing mental health support is crucial, particularly in those communities most impacted by violence.

13. Paul Vallas

Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools followed by superintendent roles in Philadelphia and New Orleans school districts

Vallas wants to go big, constructing a community-owned, city-funded clinic in every police district—totaling 22—that provides treatment for illness, support for neighborhood-specific needs like affordable housing, personal finances or nutrition and works in tandem with law enforcement on training and crisis intervention.

Sound expensive?

“I’ve suggested that any revenue from the legalization of cannabis is allocated to the centers,” he said. “I also support considering a citywide referendum to put before tax payers a .25% property tax special levy to be used exclusively for [this].”

Additionally, the former CEO of CPS believes that mental health treatment needs to begin at a very young age, so he’d institutionalize these services in high schools and elementary schools.

14. Willie Wilson

Founder and CEO of Omar Medical Supplies

During a WLS radio interview last year, Wilson attacked Emanuel’s decision to close mental health clinics and introduced race into the debate, saying the mayor has a “mental health problem” of his own.

“If I closed 48 schools and were mayor today in a white community, what do you think would happen?” Wilson said.

Citing private conversations with police or fire responders, Wilson asserted in a Chicago Sun-Times questionnaire that more than half of emergency calls involve mental health issues. The first step to addressing crime, then, is to keep vulnerable citizens from turning to medication and instead allow them to turn for help. Like the other candidates in the field, Wilson wants reopen community health clinics and provide support for distressed communities more directly.

Photo at top: The outcry over the number of people incarcerated with mental illness has become a focal point of this year’s mayoral race.(/Flickr)

Misdemeanor court tackles fast-paced flow of cases

By Chris Schulz
Medill Reports

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Robert Kuzas considered 88 misdemeanor cases over the course of two hours at a recent 9 a.m. hearing. That is considered a moderately slow session in Branch 43, as the county’s misdemeanor court at 3150 W. Flournoy St. is known. Two more sessions filled that day with 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. court calls.

“Efficiency is the priority in most courtrooms,” said Joy Tull, one of the public defenders working at Branch 43.

To get through all those cases in the time allotted, the courtroom runs like a well-oiled machine. Assistant state’s attorneys and prosecutors stand shoulder to shoulder in front of the judge’s bench and consider case after case.

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More international students in the U.S. ponder career prospects after graduation

By Lily Qi
Medill Reports

After receiving another job rejection, 22-year-old Dayan Paiewonsky posted an Instagram screenshot of the email with “thank u, next.”

Paiewonsky left the Dominican Republic four years ago to study international business and finance at the Loyola University Chicago.

With graduation approaching this summer, finding a job is becoming urgent for him. In Paiewonsky’s eyes, completing college in less than five months isn’t something to be excited about like fellow students, but a crucial stepping stone if he hopes to stay in the U.S.
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Volunteers and survivors of sexual assault help other survivors

By Chris Schulz
Medill Reports

Medical advocates always hope they will not receive this notification during their shift. Even though they have trained for the scenario, are certified by the state to respond and have volunteered their time for this exact reason, it is still heartbreaking. The notification means that someone, somewhere in a hospital in Chicago has just disclosed that they survived a sexual assault.

Medical advocates are dispatched on these calls by the organization they volunteer with, such as YWCA-Chicago or Resilience, notified directly by staff at the hospital.

Although she stresses that every case is different, Lindsay Cogan always tries to start her interactions with survivors by communicating: “This isn’t your fault. I believe you. You have options.”

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Every night out in the cold: Volunteers count the city’s homeless


By Lu Zhao and Kimberly Jin
Medill Reports

Shivering in the icy wind, he stood alone on the refuge island at the crossroad of West Cermak Road and South Clark Street. Out in the pitch darkness, the middle-aged man became visible under a dim streetlight.

Being first-time volunteers for the annual Homeless Count, we hesitated. How should we politely approach him? But on a quiet winter night with little traffic, he easily noticed us and ran across the street towards us.

The dusky streetlight shed light on his gray thick beard and the wrinkled face hidden under his dark blue hood. We explained how we were here collecting information about homeless people for the city. But he seemed perplexed, making a hoarse sound. He raised a hand to point at his ear and slowly shook his head.

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Local businesses assess the impact of the Lincoln Yards project

By Louis Ricard
Medill Reports

Developer Sterling Bay is working with the City of Chicago to bring a new recreational area in Lincoln Yards, a massive city-within-a-city proposed development

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After Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) gave his approval earlier this month to the third and latest proposal in his ward, the Chicago Plan Commission voted unanimously in favor of the project Thursday during its monthly meeting. The new project straddles 55 acres of the Chicago River on Chicago near North Side will cost up to $6 billion to develop, helping to reshape the entire area, according to Sterling Bay’s website.
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